Fracking and What it Really Means

FrackdownTomorrow is the Global Frackdown, a day focused on ending fracking. As most of you likely know I live in Oklahoma, we are one of the top natural gas producing states and home to the headquarters of many of the top natural gas companies. I’ve been around oil and gas drilling all of my life, my family and friends work in the industry.

First let’s talk about what fracking really is. Fracking is the nickname for hydraulic fracturing. This is a drilling process that has been around for a long time. Modern hydraulic fracturing, referred to as horizontal slickwater fracturing, started around 1998. This is the type of hydraulic fracturing most activists are talking about. This is what is used to extract shale gas. It uses highly pressurized hydraulic fracturing fluid to create new channels in rock to recover gas or other substances.

When you hear someone saying fracking they likely are talking about the whole drilling process but it’s really just one part of the process. This confusion really comes to play when people talk about fracking causing earthquakes. While fracking does cause very small earthquakes that we can’t feel and don’t do any damage, there has been very little evidence to show it’s causing the earthquake swarms and larger earthquakes. There was a study recently in Texas that may show some links but this is still very new information and more studies will be needed.

However, another part of the drilling process that is used in fracking, is class II wells, also known as disposal wells. These disposal wells have been linked in several studies to earthquakes, including Oklahoma’s biggest earthquake back in 2011. Earlier this month a disposal well in Oklahoma shutdown after it possibly triggered an earthquake swarm south of me.

Hydraulic fracturing and disposal wells are also being studied to find what their impact is on our water. Oil and gas companies don’t have to disclose what is in the frack fluid used in drilling, thanks to a giant loop hole in the Safe Drinking Water Act. You may hear the industry try to say it’s just salt water but this is not true, ask one of them to drink it. Unless they have a death wish they won’t.

Around Oklahoma natural gas is being pushed as clean energy because it’s cleaner burning than oil and coal. But air pollution isn’t the only concern, and don’t be fooled natural gas still causes air pollution, water pollution and even the earthquake swarms are concerns. Oklahoma is used to tornadoes, we know what to do in tornadoes, we are clueless when it comes to earthquakes and our homes are not built to handle them. My home was slightly damaged in our large earthquake a few years ago and other homes were badly damaged. That earthquake was a 5.7, large enough my California friends and family were asking if we were okay.

Yet CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicles are being pushed around here as eco-friendly. Natural gas is a very dirty bandaid for our energy crisis. I’m not sure if other states get to hear about natural gas all the time but here we hear about the 100 years of natural gas all the time. The claims of course come from industry backed reports.

“The claim of a 100-year supply originated with a report released in April 2011 by the Potential Gas Committee, an organization of petroleum engineers and geoscientists. President and Chairman Larry Gring works with Third Day Energy LLC, a company based in Austin, Texas, that is engaged in acquiring and exploiting oil and gas properties along the Texas Gulf Coast. Chairman of the Board Darrell Pierce is a vice president of DCP Midstream LLC, a natural-gas production, processing, and marketing company based in Denver. The report’s contributors are from the industry-supported Colorado School of Mines. In short, the Potential Gas Committee report is not an impartial assessment of resources.”- Slate

One thing to note is the 100 years number is at current rates of consumption. Natural gas consumption is rising as it’s pushed as a cleaner alternative to oil. If we start running all of our cars on CNG this will greatly increase our consumption. The numbers are based on proven, probable, possible and speculative reserves, with proven reserves making up the smallest  number. The reality is we can’t be sure how much gas there is or how quickly we will use it up.

Right now we need gas and oil, without them our lives as we know them end but we need to be pushing to get off of these dirty fuels as soon as possible. We must reduce our consumption and start to switch to truly sustainable energy sources. This switch will take time but that is all the more reason to start now, the longer we wait the worse things will get and the more we will have to rush.